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Off the Beaten Track in Sicily

We'll have the month of May in Sicily next year and pretty much planned to work our way through the RS book, but I'd like to know if anyone has experience with out-of-the-way small towns anywhere--on the coast or well into the interior. We've got the time and a car, so it would be a good opportunity to break out of the tour book rut.


Posted by
11970 posts

Sicily is not particularly overwhelmed by tourists except for July and August when hordes of Italians and Europeans descend to the island to enjoy the seaside. Aside from that period, the only place that is a bit overrun by visitors, especially on weekends, is Taormina. Everywhere else crowds will be very manageable. Obviously there will be visitors in the most famous spots, namely, Palermo and Monreale, Siracusa, Valley of the Temples (Agrigento), Cefalù, Erice, and a couple more places.
Aside from a few days in Palermo, I would consider staying in the following seaside locations and also visit the nearby towns (in parenthesis).
Scopello (great base for Segesta, Zingaro Reserve, Erice, Selinunte, Trapani, Salemi, Castellammare)
Cefalu (Petralia, Gangi)
Giardini Naxos (Taormina, Mt. Etna, Castelmola, Castiglione di Sicilia)
Ortigia (Siracusa, Noto)

Posted by
3112 posts

You may want to supplement the RS Sicily guidebook with the Loney Planet Sicily guidebook, which will have information about sights, lodging and restuarants in many locations not covered by the RS guidebook. The Lonely Planet guidebook might also help with your selection of other places to visit.

Posted by
380 posts

Hi Wanderlust58,

In September I made my second visit to Sicily, spending 22 days traveling counterclockwise around the island, starting and finishing in Catania, mostly using public transportation to get from place to place. I spent lots of time researching the forum posts about Sicily and got lots of suggestions and good ideas from many of them. On my trip I visited the well known tourist destinations of Siracusa, Catania, Taormina, Etna, Palermo, Agrigento, etc but also purposely stayed at or visited smaller towns not always on the tourist track. Here are some ideas for places not always considered.
One of my favorites was Mazara del Vallo, a small fishing town with heavy Tunisian influence, on the southwest corner of Sicily. Becky, a contributor to this forum had suggested I view the documentary titled Sicily Unpacked on youtube which follows the travels of an Italian chef and a British art historian as they eat and pursue their interests around the island. The documentary is wonderful and will give you lots of good ideas. Mazara del Vallo was one of the towns visited and it caught my interest. We took a train from Palermo to get there and stayed two nights, which was just the right amount of time. We spent one day exploring the town and seeing the Dancing Satyr that was pulled from the sea, and the second day we took a short train ride over to Castelvetrano and right in front of the train station we caught a public bus for a short ride to the beautiful ruins at Selinunte. I very much liked exploring Selinunte, right on the ocean, with far fewer people than Agrigento. i also recommend a visit to Erice. You will have a car so Erice is doable. The town was enveloped in fog and a light drizzle when we were there but still quite beautiful. If you were to drive from Palermo you could combine Erice with a visit to Trapani or the nature reserve in Scopello or the beach at San Vito lo Capo and then on to Mazara del Vallo and From Mazara del Vallo you can head over to Agrigento.

If you have any interest in religious sites, you might consider a visit to Tindari where the Sanctuary of the Black Madonna sits on a cliff overlooking the most beautiful sea views. There are also Greek and Roman ruins right there, walkable from the church. We stayed one night in the tiny beach town of Oliveri at the base of the cliff. But with a car I would visit Tindari church and ruins for a few hours and then continue on my way. Tindari is on the northern coast, not far from Milazzo. Milazzo, has a castle and is on the sea, It also caught my eye but I did not get there. From Tindari you could drive to Cefalu with possible stops in Castelbuono or Caccamo, mountain towns with castles and views. Cefalu is a very pleasant town to visit, and the historical center is very compact.

If you are a fan of the film “Cinema Paradiso” look into the small interior mountain town of Palazzo Adriano, where some of movie was filmed. I did not end up going there because of transportation, but it looks so very picturesque that it caught my eye and had I had a car I would have gone.

Posted by
16824 posts

Rick's Sicily guide didn't exist at the time of my 2015 trip, so I don't know what he includes and what he does not. I assume the book if pretty comprehensive since it covers just the one major island (plus possibly some offshore islands like the Aeolians and Egadis).

I didn't find any part of Sicily particularly touristy in June 2015 except for Taormina, which was so crowded I was glad to escape after a few hours. No doubt it's more pleasant at night, but it's an expensive place to stay. The interior feels almost forgotten, though I'm sure the occasional bus tour shows up at the Villa Romana del Casale not too far from Piazza Armerina. Piazza Armerina, Enna and Caltagirone are all worth a look. I'm sure there many other back-of-beyond spots in the interior, but I was dependent on trains and buses, so I didn't have much freedom to explore. I have read that the Greek site at Morgantina is very lightly visited.

Posted by
557 posts

IF you like ceramics:

Fifteen miles or so east of Cefalu on the coast is a little town called Santo Stefano di Camastra. Its main street is full of shops selling beautiful bright red and orange and teal pottery. It was unlike any we had seen anywhere in Italy. We thought "Oh, wow, this must be what Sicilian ceramics look like!" and expected to see it in more towns in our next 10 days, but never did. It seemed to be unique to that town. This was 20 years ago. Luckily, we bought quite a lot that day!

I just now looked at Google Images and see that the shops have other colors, too.

Posted by
6045 posts

I loved the town of Sciacca. It's not a particularly small out of the way town but not on a lot of tourists' radars. It's a coastal town in the west about half way between Agrigento and Trapani. It's well known for ceramics and has several artist's studio/sales rooms that you can visit. We had a great lunch in a seaside trattoria but I can't remember the name of it. It's a nice size town (about 40k pop.) on the water and quite scenic.

Posted by
1487 posts

From Cefalu, drive into the Madonie mountains. We spent several days in Polizzi Generosa. Would have liked to have gone further into the small mountain towns but we didn't have a car.